Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Punishment or Consequence?

About two years ago now, I think it was, I walked into my doctor's office just a month shy of my first 5K race with a calf about 10cm bigger than it's nearest neighbor, and a pain that went from what I called my hip down to my foot; sometimes sharp, sometimes numb, always there and always uncomfortable. My calf was particularly painful, waking me up in the middle of the night. I'd start every morning limping, then force myself to keep a stable gait as I headed out for a run. The run would be a limping disaster. I'd crawl home, blaming myself for this obvious weakness of personality or character that made me too wimpy to run. Before this happened, I was averaging 8-9 minutes a mile on a lazy day - not bad for an old lady new to the sport, who'd spent her whole life insisting running was torture, only to discover it's really near-heaven when those endorphins kick in. I was proud of what I'd done - I was a couch to 5K success, and I had plans, baby, plans! First a 5K, then 10, then the World (literally, Disney Princess Half Marathon, which I thought would be a fantastic birthday present to myself). My doctor, a former runner herself, shook her head and said "You've got a pretty severe calf strain, and some problems with your SI joint...this one feels loose, and that's probably putting pressure on your sciatic nerve which is causing the leg pain...or it could be priformis...." She drifted off and looked kind of sad, which made me say the words I needed to say - "Can I run again?"

The answer, she strongly felt, was no.  She referred me for pt and recommended I learn to swim, which I did. I swam a mile or two a day for over a year, until we moved here (where the pool at my gym just doesn't do it for me). But when she said "No" to running, although I think I heard it, and I know I SAID it out loud to more than one person (including, but not limited to, a drunken sob-fest in my back yard around a fire in which I begged my daughter in law to run "for me, because you can..."), I really didn't accept it. I sought alternatives. I rested and iced and compressed and elevated. Over and over. I went through a course of PT. I saw a host of people from spine to sports med and back again. I was x-rayed, prodded, poked, MRI'd, and massaged. I did two rounds of pt, following the instructions to a T. Every now and then I'd throw a run into a walk, just a short jog. Or on vacation I would run from coaster to coaster. Or maybe find an excuse to run across a parking lot. Anything to try. Every time I'd get hit with pain, and every time I'd tell myself I was an idiot. Stupid. Slow learner. Any negative thing I could throw at me.

Then came the bargaining with God: "Lord, just let me run, and I'll do whatever you want. I don't even want to win. I just want to run." or "Why can't I run? Is it because my running doesn't glorify You? Then show me HOW to do that, and I will! ANYTHING!! JUST LET ME RUN!!". This, of course, then turns into the self-loathing voice of the enemy "You suck. That's why God won't let you run. Because you are a horrible human being, and not worthy of running. You suck. You're weak. You're worthless. That's why."

Over and over and over.

I've sat on the hill here and watched the end of 5K's with a rock of bitterness in my heart. I've thought mean things about women who look about my age who run by, all thin and smiling. I wanted to smack them, steal their shoes, and RUN AWAY. RUN. Just let me RUN, GOD WHY CAN'T I RUN?

All this time it's been about punishment. I have, obviously, pissed God off SO much and He is SO mad at me that He is going to just stab me in the ass (literally) and chew on my calf until I have been punished thoroughly. Because it's all about me, and all about my failures, and all about my weakness of character.


What if I am wrong? What if there's a bigger purpose to my NOT running than to my running? What if my not-running has led me down a path that I never otherwise would have followed, and brought me to people and places I never would have come to know? What if I'd never met Ann at the Y in Greenfield, who's 83 and mostly blind and swims every day? Or John, my favorite life guard? Or Marcia, who's Dad was also a Mason, and who taught me to swim in the first place? What if I'd never been compelled by the lack of running to fill the space with strength training and dancing lessons, and met Caitlan at the gym and Angel at dancing school? I love those people and I love that I've met them.

This weekend Gene and I were slated to walk Grumpy's Cranberry Harvest 5K. And when I say walk, I mean walk. I was all prepared to avoid temptation. I chose a "race" that had a clear "walker-friendly" vibe. I ate a big breakfast, and drank coffee, and topped that with the cranberry chocolate bar out of my swag bag just before we started. I never eat before I run. I wore my super baggy pants and enough layers for a fall morning walk - but WAY too many for a run. I wore my weakest, lamest sports bra. I took Gene with me - a man who's life motto is "Gene No Run". We crossed the start line and I was set in my head for a relaxed 5K walk. No big. I can do this.

But then the day seemed too perfect, and the substrate was so blissful (soft dirt and sand, not concrete or blacktop which have particularly been forbidden me) and I thought "Maybe I can get Gene to just jog a little...not a real run...". I pointed out this little kid that was ahead of us and said "We can totally take him if we just jog a little...." We alternated jogging and walking, passing specific targets.. Girl with pony tail. Lady in tutu. And so on. Each time I'd think I should stop, there'd be another target on the horizon, one more person to pass. This went on until I felt a familiar snap and a sharp zing from my calf up to my butt , or from my butt to my calf - one or the other or both? Calf strain, or sciatica? Who knows. I slowed to a walk. I walked backward up the hill toward the end.

As we approached the line I just couldn't do it - I let go and I ran. Not full throttle, but enough to send my leg into a very dark place. I crossed the line, walked around a little, and laid down on the pavement to try and stretch out my SI joint, relieving the pressure on the piriformis, and sending sensations of a slightly better nature down to my foot. Sunday I checked my calf  - only a half a centimeter bigger than it's neighbor. Since then I've rested, cancelled plans for a long drive, stretched, foam rolled, stretched some more, strength trained the things that didn't irritate it, and so on. It will be a week or so before I feel up to a full 3 mile walk with the boys, if I am careful. It will be longer before I have any desire to sit for more than five minutes! So now I pay the fiddler for my short, short dance in the November sunshine.

I've pondered gratitude a lot since Saturday. I am so grateful for having been there, proud for having tried, thrilled that Gene jogged with me a little (even if Gene No Run). It was a beautiful day, and I am so grateful to God for it. Maybe a little bitter watching women my age smile and laugh and take their prizes, knowing that a couple of years ago I ran that fast if I worked at it, knowing I could have at least kept pace with them, but mostly, overall, grateful.

This morning as we headed out for our walk, about half of our usual 3 mile loop, I warned the boys that it would be a short one. I said, out loud, "Sorry, boys, but mommy was stupid Saturday, and now she's got to pay for that."

And I heard a still small voice inside of me, the one I have come to recognize as God, whisper "No. Mommy challenged herself this weekend, and now she is experiencing the consequences of that."

It is amazing how God can, in one millisecond, change years of wrong perspective. I'm not being punished. I'M BEING GROWN!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Playing Tourist Again

First I wish to announce that the winner of the FREE copy of Judith Durant's One Skein Wonders for Babies book is.... Nadine Foster! (thank you random number generator!) I will be on touch soon to get your details so I can ship it out to you. Congratulations, and enjoy knitting for the wee ones in your life! 

We decided before we came here that we would take every opportunity of stuffing ourselves with as much of Massachusetts as we possibly could, knowing that we will probably move on from here to places unknown. And having never lived in the eastern part of the state, there's a lot of things we've never seen or done that I've always wanted to see and/or do. 

For example, I have always wanted to see a cranberry harvest. I have seen them on television before, but that's just not the same as BEING there.

This weekend was Columbus Day weekend, and there were festivals and celebrations a-plenty.  At the Cranberry Harvest Festival, hosted by A.D. Make peace Company (the world's largest cranberry grower!), there were activities, samples, crafters, and food trucks galore! There was live music, and a ton of things for kids to do from free pony rides to dry harvesting of cranberries and making your own take-home "bog in a cup". For bigger kids there were beer and wine tastings, and helicopter tours for a reasonable $50 per adult. The event encompasses two areas - the Frogfoot bog where the harvesting takes place, and the farm where the majority of vendors were camped out. 

After we paid our $10 per adult entry fee, we followed the map to the bus loading area bound for the bog. We boarded old-school yellow buses (flashback!) and headed into the unknown (or the woods, whichever). After a short ride we popped off of the bus outside of a barn containing a variety of cranberry related merchandise and a display of the photography of Robert "Grumpy" Conway. Conway was a longtime employee of the A.D. Make peace Company, and a nature lover and amateur photographer. There is even a race held annually in his honor - Grumpy's Harvest 5K Walk/Run - the proceeds of which go to the Cranberry Educational Foundation's Scholarship Fund. We bought some fresh raw cranberries - two pounds of them. They look amazing. It's not like I haven't seen cranberries before. I mean, I was born and reared in Massachusetts. But these berries look NOTHING like the ones found in the produce department in November.
They are full and bright and bursting with goodness. I can't wait to make them into something, although I have developed a habit for them au natural now, too. I ate about a cup of them by the end of the bog experience.

The Frogfoot Bog area hosts a bunch of activities and educational opportunities. We started with a ride around a bog in a tractor-drawn trailer; think hay-ride sans hay.
We got a great education about the berries and their history - cranberries are native to Massachusetts - about as native as it gets. The Wampanoag's taught the Europeans about them. They were essential as a food source, and were recognized medicinally as well. There are bogs in Massachusetts that have vines that are as old as 150 years.  A farmer rarely has to start a new bog in this part of the country, because the vines and bogs are well established. The berry requires specific conditions to grow, both in terms of the substrate they prefer to the climate, and while Massachusetts may be the home of the cranberry, they are now grown as far away as Canada and Oregon - although we, of course, still grow the majority of them.

Bogs are not water-filled during the growing season, and the berries do not grow in water. Rather, the water is allowed to flow into the bogs for harvest, so that the fruit can be parted from their vine hosts, and then the berries are rounded up and floated, then pulled into a giant vacuum (for lack of a better term). 
The water from that bog is then drained to the next, and the process is repeated. As the berries are lifted from the water by vacuum and hoisted onto a conveyor system, the water from the process is returned to the bog. 
I was surprised by the water conservation involved in cranberry harvest. Rather than "flushing it all down the can" so to speak, the machinery is all arranged in a way, and the bank tarped, so that as much water returns to the bog as possible. 

I love the process - berries released from their moorings, rounded up and sucked up, conveyed up and into waiting trucks, and on and on until the bog is empty and the next ready to be filled with water and beaten. My favorite part probably involved the handfuls of cranberries I got to munch down.
I've decided I like them better than raw rhubarb, and I like raw rhubarb pretty well. Maybe it's a tie.

Today, the conveyor - tomorrow a can of cranberry sauce on your Thanksgiving table. Thank your farmers. The guy who led our tour sells half of his berries to Ocean Spray and half to a farmer's co-operative. Literally, I may have seen berries that Gene will be snarfing down from a can in a few weeks. He does love his cranberry sauce (canned, jellied - not whole berry - and with the understanding that one can is one portion).

After we watched the wet harvest operation we took a short break for lunch. I had a disappointing cup of indifferent soup that tasted less like butternut and more like leftover macaroni and cheese. I ditched it after the first couple of bites. But I did get free Crasin samples from Ocean Spray, and a sample of their new cranberry tangerine juice.
And Gene had a fried sausage with peppers and onions.
Sometimes being an 80% vegetarian and 100% gluten free stinks - today was one of those times. At festivals I have a hard time finding anything other than french fries. No gluten, no meat...way too confusing. I am always glad when Gene pulls out the kettle corn.

Did I mention the free samples? Ocean Spray was giving away a stack of sample sized bags of various dried cranberry based snacks. Love a freebie. AND you got to build your "bog in a cup" here, too, layering rock and sand and adding a sprig of cranberry vine on top.

Also, Bigelow Tea was there with their Big Tea Bar handing out samples of hot tea and a bag to take home for later.
I got the Thin Mint tea (tastes just like the cookie!) and Gene got his favorite Pomegranate Green. I also tweeted from their and won a prize - a "tea-shirt"!

Then we went and saw dry harvesting - or more accurately, participated in dry harvesting.
Most of the berries in the supermarket bags are harvested this way. Instead of flooding the bog with water, then beating and rounding up the berries, in dry harvesting they are pulled from the vines with rake-ended collection devices, sort of like the Maine blueberry harvesting tools of yore.
We got to walk onto the bog, and experience dry harvest first hand. Kids loved this. I preferred to find a quiet spot and grab a handful and reflect on the humble berry that has probably saved countless lives, and assisted in the development of this country in ways we really don't fully appreciate.

We returned to the farm via shuttle bus, and wandered among vendors and displays and demonstrations. Johnson and Wales gave cooking demonstrations. One chef made a lovely seasonal plate featuring short ribs, kale with cranberry and pecans, and a root veg puree with a lovely little butternut pickle that I really loved. I was too far back in the pack to get the kale. He also lauded the glories of the VitaMix, which I also adore - AND I found out that any pan that a magnet can stick to can be used on an induction burner. So if I wanted to experience induction, I can buy a single burner and slap my cast iron on it just to try it out. Tempting.

We sampled some strange botanical teas from Vermont, a nice selection Vermont cheeses, and some wine from Westport Rivers Winery (may I recommend the Cinco Caes?). Then I found RIPE. They make craft juices. They also make craft bar juice. They were giving away sample bottles of both. As a general rule I do not drink juice. I don't like the extra wasted calories, I don't like that it usually is watered down or sugared up. This isn't that kind of juice. The cold pressed (never heated, never pasteurized, fresh, fresh, fresh) cranberry apple was just stunning and pure and fiberful and amazing. Madly in love. I also got a sample of 100% cranberry - nothing added! No sugar, just cranberry juice! We did get some Agave Margarita bar juice as well, but I've got no idea when we'll use it (we have 75-80 days, according to the website). We did taste a sample and it was pretty amazing, and there are recipes, both virgin and not so much virgin.

In all this was just a really fun day, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. Between the free samples and the cran-u-cation, and the Johnson and Wales demo, and the oysters (I forgot about that - so there's these oysters around here from Big Rock Oyster Co in Harwich and they are just wicked freaking amazingly delicious and are probably the BEST oysters I have ever had in my life and I have eaten a lot of oysters - I've been stalking these guys at every festival and event all summer, and I got an invite to visit the farm and get a tour and learn to shuck!!) and the requisite kettle corn and sausage and pepper and onion thing (which has become a thing since Dad died and Gene now thinks it's his job to eat all the sausage that Dad would if he were still here) it was a really great day. If you're ever local to Wareham on Columbus Day weekend, I highly recommend it!

Next post maybe there will be some knitting or at least something handcraft-y. It's fall here and so easy to get lost in the season. The last hurrah before the long winter ahead. We're told it snows less here. But after last winter, I am not sure I believe.

Monday, October 05, 2015


I am gonna give it away, yes I am, one copy of this sweet book from Storey Publishing, edited by Judith Durant, featuring a collection of charming, knittable patterns for babies and toddlers - all using just one skin of yarn! 

Because there was a mix-up in shipping, I have an extra copy of this adorable book. And while I had no intention of parting with my own copy, I am willing to let the second one go. So we will have a giveaway. This contest (if you can call it that) will end one week from today - Monday October 12 at 6pm EST. Comment on this post and one random winner will be drawn - one entry per reader, please! You have a week (and about 46 minutes). Comment away! And be sure to tell all your knitting friends, so they can have a chance as well!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Babies, Babies, Babies.

I do love a good baby knit. So when Judith Durant and Storey Publishing came knocking, asking for submissions to her latest "101" book, I was all about it. Happily my submissions were chosen, which means I get a copy of the book to review, and I get to see my name in print again - always a fun thing - and YOU get to see this blog post in which I review "One Skein Wonders for Babies"!

First let's talk about me. I have two patterns in this book. The first is a lovely little sweater set called "Birthday Baby" that I designed with one of our grandbabies in mind. (FOUR! We have FOUR grandbabies now!). It's a pretty simple knit and would make an excellent gift for any new little one. It knits up quickly from the top down, and I personally love it. The basic design is my go-to for new babies, and I alter the pattern stitch on the body and sleeves as desired - for this occasion I chose a textured ribs sort of pattern, but you could change it up pretty easily to a lace pattern, or even a cable if you're using a solid colored yarn.
My second design for this book is "Wee Britches", a pair of (conveniently, for this purpose, color-coordinating) footless tights or pants. I find them adorable, a quick little knit, and so useful on their own, or for layering in colder weather. I sometimes knit a bootie into the leg to create footed tights, but for this incarnation there's no foot on the tights, just TOES! Who doesn't love baby toes?
 Now about the book - true to the "One Skein" series, this book is conveniently sized, 287 pages long, and has a comprehensive glossary of knitting terms, and a useful chart of abbreviations inside the back cover. The patterns run a wide range and are organized into chapters - "Little Tops", "Little Bottoms" and so forth. But don't think it's just tops and bottoms - there's the sweetest little hats, some completely adorable toys, and a host of accessories and blankets. 
If you've got babies about, or have babies on the way, or just like to knit things for babies that may show up someday (because they're so fun to knit for!), this is a great little book to add to your knitting library. Like all of the One Skein books, the yarn commitment is low, which makes it perfect for those times when you're left pondering what to do with this or that single ball.

In other review-type news...It's not a secret that I am kind of an obsessive dog mom, is it? I mean, the boys are a huge part of my life. Last year when Gene was "out here" and I was "back there", a lot of my life revolved around these dogs. Some days they were my only reason to get up in the morning. Have to get up. Have to walk the boys. Have to get moving. Have to walk the boys. Walking the boys has it's ups, but it also has some downs. Last year I dropped a leash on an ice cold day when I couldn't feel my fingers. That led to the acquisition of a wide nylon belt that I could run the leash handles through so that there would be no more inadvertant dropping incidents. But that led to another issue - two leashes around my waist, one two feet longer than the other. Constant juggling and tangling and occasional tripping was the outcome. But then last week at a Scallop Festival in Bourne, I ran across The Black Leash, a small company that hand makes nautical rope leashes and horse leads, handcrafted leather products, and reflective collars. They had a double dog leash that I fell in love with. It looked a little bit like this:
Except that the rope was thicker, and the leash latches were both swivel hooks of polished brass. I loved the idea, but I had reservations. Yoshi once managed to get the thumb press part of a convention leash latch open. I'd only had him for a couple of days, and I nearly lost him. He was torn - woods. New mom. Woods. New mom. It was a terrifying minute, and if a truck or car had come tearing down the road, he would have been gone. He did not like motor vehicles. Since then I refuse to walk him with a conventional swivel hook, preferring a trigger type mechanism - and even then I am edgy about it. 
You may have figured out by now that I got a leash, right? I mean, all the pictures, it's kind of a dead giveaway. I got a leash all right - a custom leash, just for me, made to my specific needs! Bradley has a convention swivel hook of bronze - harder than iron! - and Yoshi... Yoshi has a high speed Kong Frog cable connector, rated to suspend mountain climbers in thin air without dropping them. 
One hopes this is sufficient to put my mind at rest. 
And it mostly is...now I can worry about his collar links snapping, instead. I LOVE this leash! I had it made 5' long, rather than 6' which is what a "normal sized" person might use. It has a second "handle" about halfway down so that I can grab them closer if I need to. The two separate leash ends work perfectly - Yoshi generally is on the inside and Brad on the outside as we walk. There is no tangling. The only problem I had, and it wasn't really a problem, just a user error, was when both boys were going potty....one finished, and I didn't realize that I needed to stop the "finished" dog from trotting off, dragging the "not yet done" dog off balance. But now that mommy has gotten smarter, we're well past that, and I simply. LOVE. This. Leash! 

I started knitting with the Plymouth Knitters Group, which meets once a week, and knits items for the Plimoth Plantation interpreters - the folks who wander around the village in 17th century garb, speaking as if they'd just fallen off a boat from 1620. (For fun, ask them a question to which the answer is "zombies". The word didn't exist! It's fun to ask modern questions and get answers from a completely different time)
I am knitting a waistcoat. The yarn is spun by Harrisville and is called New Plimoth Worsted and I love it. The patterns used to create garb for the 17th century village are from a book called "Knitted Garb - Inspired by Originals: Designs for Plimoth Plantation and Beyond". The book is a labor of love and a collaboration between The Weavers' Guild of Boston and The Greater Boston Knitting Guild. It included 12 patterns, ranging from stockings and garters to waistcoats and caps, mittens and gloves - everything a chilly Pilgrim might need for the beginning of a mini ice age. There are no knitting patterns as we know them from that time period, but there are some examples of garments or pieces of garments from which patterns had been extrapolated. This book brings those patterns together and standardizes the language, streamlines the directions, and makes the items knittable by a modern knitter. 
Today we are peacefully diffusing Young Living oils - Abundance and Envision. It's delicious in here, with a little breeze outside reminding me that summer is waning. Yoshi is resting at my feet and I am FINALLY knitting my Tilted Duster - Interweave 2007. That's how long I've held on to this yarn and pattern. Since 2007. And finally now I can make the thing - hopefully while there's still enough fall left to appreciate it.
I am loving the pattern. Not sure how I feel about the yarn, and I think I would like to remake it in something plied. I am just not a single ply fan - unless we are talking about Silk Garden or Kureyon, but that's Noro and so falls into a different category. Noro is the exception to every rule.

Hope you had an excellent weekend!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

View and Re-View

It looks as if this is going to be book review month here at Ye Old Blog. It would have already started if I'd found my camera. If anyone sees my camera...give a shout, hey? Sorry in advance for the images - I am shooting with my phone for the time being!
As always, books that I review on this blog were given to me by the publisher but I will not review a book I don't like, or don't think has some relevance in the marketplace. If you see it here, it struck a chord with me. If I don't like them, I simply don't review them.
First up is a new release from Running Press that will be available in October titled Knitless: 50 No-Knit, Stash-Busting Yarn Projects by Laura McFadden, author of 1,000 Handmade Greetings (and others). Of course, you probably don't need a book like this. I am sure that none of my readers have yarn they just don't know what to do with, right? I mean, we all know exactly what to do with yarn. Even those big baskets of partial balls, and the remainder skeins stuffed into the recycled comforter bags under the bed, right? Right! Of course we do. No? Me either... until now. Now we have options!

With a wide range of projects, Knitless gives knitters (and others) a host of things to do with yarn, from the artistic and aesthetic, to the practical and functional - and in some cases a nice blend of both.

Take this, for example - coasters! Practical and functional. Pretty and useful. I can get behind that! And it isn't like I don't have enough yarn to make this happen. I can see these as excellent gifts as well, in a basket for example with lots of yummy coffee samples and a couple of mugs...

Do you have piles of loose earrings sitting around in piles? I know I used to before I stopped wearing them. This is an excellent way to organize them and use up some yarn in the process - a customized piece using a simple frame that can easily be coordinated with any decor.

Speaking of decor - custom art anyone? An excellent use for scraps - yarn painting. I love this idea!
But I really love this - probably my favorite in the book - a concentric circle rug created using paracord and yarn. I've been needing a new kitchen rug...and it isn't like I don't have any yarn with which to create this project! In fact I could probably make a whole new living room carpet out of these circles...

In most instances the yarn amounts are fairly small, making them perfect for those little balls left after completing of a project. Once you've filled all the empty glass jars in your house with random balls of this or that, and have run out of things to do, Knitless comes to the rescue with a wide range of projects for all skill levels and time investments, from wearable pieces to art pieces to functional items - I've just scratched the surface with the very few projects I've shown here.

The directions for these projects are very clear, and templates are included where needed. Whether you are making your own suspension bridge side table (LOVE it!) or yarn bombing a bike (because why not!?), Knitless may be just the book to inspire you to set down your needles - just for a MINUTE, mind you - and let your yarn do something new and different!

In all there are 50 uses for yarn divided into four chapters. The book is neatly sized at 208 pages, and handily paperback with flaps for page marking. Look for it in October - an excellent stocking stuffer idea!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Change Your Thinking One Day at a Time? Right.

I walk my dogs every morning from our cozy little spot on the hill down into the town and along the waterfront. We walk along the fishermen's wharf and wave hello to the regulars who congregate there. My trash-collecting habit amuses some of the guys, who laugh at me and shake their heads, and others thank me for my "service". I find all sorts of things from empty cans and bottles to scratch tickets and even occasionally discarded waitstaff shirts from a local eatery or two - I've started a collection of these just to see how many I can score in a year. Thank you, disgruntled staffers discarding their summer jobs and the shirts along with them!
Yoshi hoping for a duck dinner on our morning walk
Since absenting myself from the knitting world, social media, and this blog I've been pretty introspective. I've spent a lot of time in prayer and Bible reading, and a lot of time allowing God to show me who I am and what I am supposed to be doing instead of trying to do everything all on my own. The truth is I have no answers to anything on my own, although I've spent a lot of time trying to prove that I did. I've stopped trying.
Low tide at the wharf
It's probably not a secret that I have struggled with anxiety and depression. I have not handled stress nearly as well as I might have. And I've had an uneasy relationship with money; once I get into any sort of a role where I begin making it for my own benefit, even in small amounts, I run fast and far in the opposite direction. Success terrifies me. My thought stream tends to be negative. I compare myself to others, which is self-defeating on all levels. I want those things to change.
Really low tide in the bay
One of the things that's always puzzled me is the ability of some people to be so damned cheerful in the face of...well, frankly, life in general. How do they DO this? How can they just be so bloody happy, as if nothing around them matters, like they cannot SEE the giant horse on the dining room table, and how can they not SEE that huge thing?!? Then add on the peculiar experiences of some of us, and I wonder how anyone even gets out of bed, let alone chirps along joyously, quipping about the beauties of life. Maybe I just started off on the wrong foot. My role models were, I suppose, not exactly what you could call "healthy". Even my father, for all of his awesomeness, struggled with the day to day thing we call living, and often ended up a bit more on the side of pessimism and sarcasm than might be considered ideal. And I have said before I am a slow learner. I think I meant it.

Since becoming a Young Living independent distributor and setting some goals related to that, I've become increasingly aware of just how much negative thinking I do, and how much that leads to self doubt and negativity, depressive feelings, stress, anxiety, and the lot. I'd also like to point out here that I have set myself up in an attempt to be successful in a field with something like a 92% "failure" rate - multi-level marketing, network marketing - these are areas where the vast majority fail, and very few succeed. And here I am; pessimistic, negative, freaky little me, thinking this is something I can do.

And now we get back to the walk, the one I take every morning with the dogs. As I walk along I think about things. I plan my day. I consider what I am going to do with all the can and lottery ticket money (I've decided to donate it). I think about deeper things - about life and choices and consequences, and about how I need to step back and allow God to change me, from the inside out, one day at a time.

The steps and revelations are TINY most days. I try not to even look at "how far I've come" because the snail pace would put me under a quilt (or possibly my crocheted Noro Silk Garden afghan), tucked neatly and tightly around my (wide) eyes, quaking with panic.

Today as we were walking along I saw a can behind a fence in a public area. It was covered with spider webs and all manner of ick. I wanted it. I will bend over for a nickel, it's true, even if I have to rinse that nickel out and take it to the local bottle center on Monday morning (where they guy now recognizes me, jokes about my "coffee money" and congratulates me on my weekly "earnings"). I love gleaning cans even more now that I have a plan for the money that puts it into better hands than mine. So there was this trapped can, and I wanted it. I thought to myself "I can't get that can. It's behind the fence and it's covered in spider webs. I can't." Doom and gloom and pessimism and a lost nickel!

But what if ...and it hit me heavy, this small, simple thing... what if I chose to look at that can in a completely different way? What if instead of saying "I can't..." I said "That can is behind a fence. I can get it if I want to. But... (Wait. Red flag! NO BUTS!! Instead say...) That can is covered in spider webs. I CHOOSE not to put my hand through the fence to get that can." And I walked away, leaving the nickel behind.

So. Simple.

So. Small.

So important.

Day by day, one day at a time, one small step at a time, my entire way of thinking, of viewing the world, of engaging with others, of being in spaces is changing. And I love it and I am SO grateful!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Avoiding the Plague While Saving the Planet

The boys and I go for a walk in our new home town daily. During these walks I have a tendency (this is a mild word for my search and destroy missions...) to pick up trash and bottles and cans from the side of the road.  Yes, I am THAT crazy lady in your home town! This drives Mr. W up a tree when he walks with us, so I try not to do it when he's along for the ride unless it's something irresistible, like a case of empty beer cans, or  those darned loopy plastic can holders that strangle birds. But the rest of the week you can find me bending and stooping to pick up everything from empty nip bottles (there but for the grace of God go I) to scratched lottery tickets ($25 in dropped winners to date - you can't win if you don't pick 'em up!) and soda cans, to the occasional bit of used drug paraphernalia. I carry hand sanitizer and gloves, and I am not afraid to use them. But having grown up with the "Crying Indian" commercial, I can't very well just leave it all there.
I just can't! Besides, I "make" about $2.00 a week in bottle returns - what my bottle guy smiles and calls my "coffee money". We move at a good clip in spite of all the bending and stooping, and average 3 miles a day. It's fun, and since running is off the menu, the trash retrieval gives me something to occupy my mind in the face of the reduced pace. Running just had so many benefits...but I digress.

I have gone through hand sanitizer like underwear in the last few weeks. It's summer and people are leaving half-full cups and containers of all sorts of things on the waterfront and side streets, and thrown between the rocks of the jetty. I empty gooey and drippy things when possible, avoiding contact with cup rims or straws, and add them to my "trash" bag. Returnable cans are similarly emptied and added to the "nickel" bag. I reach for the hand sanitizer quite often, and today I ran out.

Now, nothing beats a good soapy scrub with warm running water. And I am not a fan of heavy chemicals, and certainly am very aware both as a health care professional and as an educated kinda crunch-berry granola-type of the issues surrounding our obsession with anti-bacterial this and that. Hand sanitizers often harbor chemicals I'd probably rather not come in contact with - but they seem a better alternative than nothing when soap and water are far away.

For example, the label on the bottle of an alcohol free version by my side reads: water, cetrimonium chloride, glycereth-2 cocoate, behentrimonium chloride, acrylates/dimethylaminoethyl methacrylate copolymer, lactic acid, tetrasodium EDTA, fragrance. Kind of makes me wish they'd just left the alcohol in, you know? I could probably fiddle with some of the root words and make some guesses about what the unpronounceable bits are, but really, wouldn't it be nicer if my hand sanitizer just read more like my new DIY foaming facial scrub bottle does? (Doc Bronner's liquid soap, glycerine, aloe vera gel, sweet almond oil, essential oils, and water). I think so.

So I set out to see if I could find a recipe online that would let me make my own hand sanitizer, preferably featuring Young Living Thieves essential oil blend, and ideally with some good old rubbing alcohol in it. For this first round I chose the most basic recipe I could find. It contains only three ingredients - rubbing alcohol, aloe vera gel, and essential oils. I had all three on hand, and the limited number of ingredients appealed to me after reading that label up there.
I combined 1/4 cup aloe vera gel (I used plain aloe gel that I had obtained for my facial cleanser - this can be difficult to find, but keep trying! Most of the big-name aloe gels contain a host of other ingredients. We are striving for purity here, so less is MORE. If you can't find it at a health food store near you, try Amazon. I like Lily of the Desert brand) with 1/2 cup of rubbing alcohol in a bowl, then added 10 drops of Thieves oil.

I whisked the whole thing together and ended up with two (well, one and two thirds, but I didn't scrape the bowl!) bottles of DIY, low-cost, minimal ingredient hand sanitizer. I put it into my two cleaned and recycled empty bottles and put them in the backpack I carry every day on my walks with "the boys".
I would not call them "gel" sanitizers as they are fairly fluid and I will experiment more in the future with different recipes and different ratios. The gel, really, is purely convenience. I can cup my little palm and use these just the same as the thicker gel versions - and sleep better at night knowing what's in them!

In a first trial run at the sink I found the fragrance to be much improved when compared to the chemical stuff. The alcohol evaporates fairly quickly, and while the aloe leaves a faint residue on the skin until it dries, I've had similar residue present with the creepy chemical versions.

Try some yourself! Unless you think unpronounceable "irritating, toxic and slightly flammable" ingredients are something you want on your skin - I know I don't want it on mine!

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

What Follows The Storms

I love weather. I track radar for severe storms, and gaze hopefully at the sky looking for signs of funnels or bright flashes of light. Hurricanes make me very happy. This shifts only in winter when severe weather means snow and ice. Give me a good thunderstorm with no injuries or deaths, just some high winds and a little hail and some nice lightning and I am a happy camper. And then there is the calm that follows a whopper of a storm, when the air is fresh and the earth glistens with possibility.

As an adult I subscribe to the “if you hear it, it can hurt you” rule and am careful not to head out if there's a strong threat. I enjoy my watching from inside spaces once the thunder is audible. Thanks to a radar mishap this morning, we nearly got caught out in this:
Suddenly, mid-walk, the sky turned very dark, and the distant thunder began to roll in, with a few flashes visible in the morning light. As we (dogs and I) raced home at top walking-but-not-quite-running speed, sweating (me) and panting (them) all the way, I was poked by the finger of memory. The tale I am about to tell made me smile all the way home, a bittersweet, wistful sort of smile.

When I was a little girl I was very much afraid of thunderstorms. I would cry and carry on and generally melt down. It was a horrible experience on the inside, but it seemed to be even more burdensome to my parents and older siblings who, confronted with a hysterical child, did everything in their power to soothe, rationalize or discipline me into some sort of more socially appropriate behavior besides loud wailing and whining. To be fair, I did have a good reason for my terror – when I was about two and a half Captain Kangaroo exploded into blinding electrical light about five feet away from my little face when a bolt of lightning struck something very close to the small one bedroom cottage in which we lived, blowing up the television I’d just been watching (literally - glass everywhere, awful smell and smoke, the works).

By the time I was five or six this paranoia had grown quite deep and become a real source of annoyance to the adults and my siblings. They wanted to sit on the porch and play Monopoly or Parcheesi and wait for the storm to pass and a cool breeze to blow. I preferred to sit on edge of a very indoor chair, windows closed, body braced for impact, family gathered close so I knew they were all safe.

On one very memorable occasion, in an attempt to prove to me that there was nothing to fear from a little thunderstorm, my father trotted off the porch steps and into the front yard. First he checked on our watermelon plant. Then he proceeded to cavort, dance, and generally make a fool of himself (all for my benefit). Each crack of thunder and flash of lightning sent me into further realms of terror, screaming “DADDY! DADDY!!” and shaking from head to foot. “Dan…” said my mother “she’s only getting worse…”

Then he thrust his arms out to the sides and shrugged in the manner typical of those both challenging God and attempting to prove a point, and said “Look, Melissa. See? There is nothing to be afraid of!” At that precise moment the world around him burst into a chaos of noise and light and he became a blurry silhouette of blue uniform against a blinding explosion of crystalline white and fragmented electricity. He ran for the house, turning to look behind him. There, not more than 40 feet from where he had stood, lay the neighbor’s maple tree in pieces.

Lesson learned. My father, it turns out, wasn’t God after all – he was quite human and fallible, and very capable of being wrong. As for Dad? I think God probably saw him cavorting, sighed heavily, and cast a finger in his direction. “Don’t tempt me, Dan.”

Later this morning there was a tornado warning about ten miles south while I was at a new-to-me doctor's office undergoing a minor procedure. Only a few miles away and me tied to a stupid doctor's office, unable to investigate and give chase! We just moved "here" a few weeks ago - or rather "the boys" and I moved. 
Mr. Wonderful has been more or less living in this neck of the woods - in a rented basement room - since last fall. We finally found a rental that would accept both dogs. We don't want to buy because we are not sure how long we will stay here. We entertain visions of seeing new places. In a bittersweet twist, the loss of both of my parents and maturing of all our kids had freed us up to do things we've always talked about, like live and work in new places. Our house sold - thank heaven! - and since both of these things occurred nearly simultaneously, it seemed like a "perfect storm" of life events. The boys LOVE their new home.
There's beaches and waterfront wharves and breakwaters to wander and explore. We like to go early in the day, as tourists are afoot by 9 am, especially this week with the holiday looming.

After the often stormy experiences of the past near-decade, it feels nice to just rest and walk and breathe. Last night we took the dogs for a moonlight beach walk at 8:30 at night. We walked for an hour or so along a delicious beach, waves breaking softly on the rocks, twinkling town lights in the distance, and even a brief home-grown fireworks show. I like it here.
It feels a little decadent, and a little indulgent, but I believe after all of that craziness since 2007 when I sat down and composed a little book about socks it's exactly what God wants me to have; just a nice, peaceful little interlude, for as long as it lasts. I am grateful, and hope it continues long enough for me to feel balanced again. 

Job 42:12

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Life and Death and The Changing of Things

I figure it's time for my annual update...just in case anyone is around to read it!

A few years ago I stepped back from blogging, knitting, teaching, traveling and writing to focus on things that were more immediate, the things that make up the most important parts of our lives: family. As any regular former reader knows, my mother died in November of 2011. It was not a comfortable time for me at all. My mother had struggled with mental illness for most of her life. She had tried many different therapies and medications, and finally with the advent or Prozac in the very late 1980's, things seemed to stabilize. As she aged, things fell apart and she chose to stop all medications and treatments. She began alternately indulging in days of starvation juxtaposed with days of massive sugar intake in an attempt to induce a diabetic coma, ultimately dying uncomfortably in a nursing home following a stroke. It was a long row to hoe, and there were a lot of things I could not share, or did not feel comfortable sharing with the general public. My greatest supporter during that time was my father who, by virtue of their marriage, knew her better than anyone else in my circle of support. We shared a lot of stories during that time; many of them laced with sarcasm and sardonic humor, and a fatalistic awareness that she would, in the end, get her way as she always did. And she did. And when she was dead my father in many ways was the only person who understood what a relief her death was for me. Everything changed. I felt free and like I could take a good long breath for the first time in forever. He had divorced her. He knew what that liberty felt like. Conflicted joy. Joyful agony. Sort of the deeply emotional equivalent of eating a whole pint of Ben and Jerry's at one sitting - so sweet on the lips, and not really regretted, but boy do you feel like a horrible person for being so damned contented when it went down! 

My father was (past-tense spoiler alert!) also the best and most faithful supporter of this blog. He rarely, if ever, commented, but would call and say he'd read the latest installment and ask me what I was up to next. I'd tell him he needed to wait and see. He was always so excited about anything I wrote. During my mother's dying process it became harder and harder to write about anything not related to her. Once she died I thought my mojo would return and things would resume, given some time, their more normal flavor. I expected the blog to take on a more "every-day life of Melissa" sort of line again. 

But that didn't happen. Instead I found myself increasingly drawn away from the whole public sharing thing, and more and more turned toward family and home and "real life". Thank God. Because it wasn't very long after my mother died that my father's condition began to clarify. It's hard, when you are a nurse - even a non-practicing one - not to mentally assess people you love, and come to horrible conclusions very quickly. I struggle with this in my daily life even now - when to express concern, when to point out the red flags I can so clearly see (but it could just be that I am paranoid...and I am not a doctor after all...and really, the person I am looking at skeptically is an adult and they'd know enough to call if things got bad, right? Right?) 

To say that the years since my mother's death have been a little crazy would be an understatement. Four kids got married, and one got divorced, the house we called "the pretty house" sold (thank heaven - it was entirely too big for our empty nest!) and we moved into "the downsize house". Mr. Wonderful's job has moved, and he now lives in someone's basement during the week and comes home for weekends while we try to sell our house - which has been on the market for over a year. In between all of that there were little moments of life and chaos and highs and lows. And thankfully the house did not sell last year. Because this last year has been about the worst and best one yet. 

The year and everything in it matters less than the outcome. In March, my father - my most beloved, cherished champion, the man I was convinced for most of my life was perfect, who was then revealed in my adolescence to be merely super human, and ultimately proved to be, simply, a Very Good Man and An Excellent Father -  died. Obviously it wasn't unexpected. The hints I had been reading in his color, the way he stood, the change in his gait all pointed to a painfully progressive illness that ultimately would (and did) end his life. 

The thing is that between all the insanity of weddings and births and divorces and moving and living and dying I was being drawn into a much deeper awareness of a Father infinitely larger than the one I idolized for so much of my life. You would think that this experience, this watching someone I care for so, so very deeply die a slow and painful death would make me resentful or angry or doubting of God, but all it's done is draw me more firmly into a love and peace that pass understanding, and into a Relationship with God that I didn't think could ever exist for me. I rather coveted the relationship others had, but it wasn't, I thought, for me. It's a subtle change I think. I talk to God all the time. I read the Bible every day, and I spend hours learning more about it - about the meanings of words, the history of stories, the different books and what they are, and about the human authors. 

And so in the last hours of my father's life I found myself lying beside him, holding his hand, breathing his breath, thanking God with a gratitude nearly blinding to me for every moment of this man's life. Of my life. Of the lives of those I love, and even some of those I don't always love so well. My father died, and my Father stepped into the gap, and I am grateful. Hurt, sad, pained, grieved and often in tears - but underneath it all just so very grateful. 

This is not what I expected. I anticipated anger and resentment, pain and fear and misery. I fully planned a nervous breakdown and a deep depression for the weeks after his death. But what I am left with is so opposite that; sometimes shockingly so. My father lived his life in service of others. He lived altruistically, giving without expectation not just of his money, but of his time and his very self. For someone who claimed not to be a Christian (at times; at other times he said he believed, and at still others said he believed almost everything the Bible said, but he was pretty sure Mary was "...a really good saleswoman") he lived the most Christ-like life of nearly anyone I know - except maybe Mr. Wonderful who, also in professed disbelief, spends most of his time laying down his life in service of others. But don't tell him I said so because we don't want his head getting all swelled, and he is a man and you know how they can be! It's important not to let one's husband think he walks on water. Which he doesn't. 

That's all that I have on my mind for now...except that my house is still on the market, we are still trying to move someplace WARM, and I may or may not be back here more in the future. But you know we're still kicking, anyway!